Micro-Hotel Majorly Ousted

A group of Lower Nob Hill residents took on the city and a developer, and won.

The empty lot at 824 Hyde St., which held a building that burned down in 2010. (Courtesy of Google)

A vacant lot at 824 Hyde St. between Bush and Sutter streets was the topic of a hot debate this week, as neighbors sought an appeal from the Board of Supervisors of the decision to approve a 30-room, micro-unit hotel. The lot, which contained eight units of affordable housing until the building burned down in a four-alarm fire in 2010, was later up-zoned to permit 14 units of residential development. Everything was in place for construction to break ground. But, in a last-minute twist, the developers switched gears and proposed a hotel instead, a decision that — surprisingly — received the Planning Commission’s blessing earlier this year.

Housing advocates and nearby residents were not pleased, to say the least. Nearly a dozen made passionate statements in an appeal the supervisors heard on Tuesday, driving home the message that a hotel in the residential neighborhood — and in a city experiencing a housing shortage — was not a good fit.

“The 94109 neighborhood has seen highest number of evictions in the city, aside from the Tenderloin, since 2010,” said Chris Schulman of the Lower Polk Neighborhood Association. “We believe housing should replace housing lost in the fire. A dangerous precedent will be set if project sponsors are allowed to turn destroyed buildings into profit.”

A nearby resident who gave his name as Dale, and who lives just around the corner from the proposed hotel, said he can see the burnt-out site from his living room.

“We need more housing, we don’t need another non-union hotel,” he said.

Theresa Flandrich, who was threatened with eviction in 2015, supported the appeal and referenced a loss of neighborly connection.

“We are losing our deep-seated communities, where we can look after each other, because all of the evictions and vacation rentals taking over much of the needed housing in this city,” she said. “Adding a hotel in this neighborhood is outrageous.”

In defense of the project, Ilene Dick spoke on behalf of 824 Hyde Investments LLC. She showed a map to the board marking many other hotels in the area, contradicting earlier statements by appellants that the development is a bad fit for the neighborhood. She also defended the hotel rooms’ size.

“Micro-unit sizes come as a result of demand,” she said. “It’s a trend that’s here to stay in the hospitality industry.”

Hotels, Dick claimed, also help to limit short-term vacation rentals like Airbnb, which take housing stock off the market.

But her defense of the hotel was to no avail — the supervisors blasted the plan and openly questioned why it had been approved at all. Sup. Aaron Peskin, who noted that the lot under debate is in his district, said the decision to approve the hotel was a learning moment for city staff.

“When you have a fire and eight residential units get burned down … when that gets turned into a non-residential use, it’s basically a policy statement by the Planning Commission and Planning Department,” he said. “This is a teachable moment.”

In the end, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to support the appeal, granting the small group of neighbors a big win against a developer. No micro-unit hotel rooms will be coming to Hyde Street anytime soon, but several units of housing will. It’s a drop in the bucket, but for those who called in babysitters and took work off on a Tuesday to come speak at City Hall, it’s a step in the right direction.

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